Let's explore deep family memory

I’ll define deep family memory in this thread as the passing down of stories by the telling, not by the writing. Although if it was only written down not not too long ago I suppose you can include it. As long as it wasn’t forgotten and relearned by the reading.

Mostly what interests me is the amount of things that have been forgotten. About how things fall out of the story as it passes through the generations. Especially since it seems that for a lot of people they don’t really begin to appreciate the unique knowledge of their grandparents until their gone.

Anyway I’d like to hear your oldest family memories. I’m especially interested in hearing how complete you think that is. How much confidence you have in what’s there. And if you can construct how it was passed down that would be cool too.

Here’s mine

Story 1 - A Cherokee family was very concerned about the safety of their daughter so they married her off to some White guy’s son.

Analysis - There is almost no detail left; no names, no dates, no places. I think this story was on the verge of being lost. In fact it was so vague I pretty much dismissed it since it was the kinda stuff my dad loved till research strongly pointed to it being true.

How it came down - I believe the marriage would have taken place in Rome, GA around 1820. Their son was born (c. 1823 to c. 1865) who would have told the story to his daughter (c. 1844. to c. 1893) to her son (1870 to 1957) to his daughter (1902 to 1994) who told my dad who told me.

Story 2 & 3My 4th great grandfather was murdered that when he went to collect a debt. He turned his back on the guy and he hit him in the back of the head with a whip stock. That was in 1845. Then his widow remarried and my 3rd great-grandfather (Cyrus) got into a fight with his step-dad, threw an axe at him and ran off. That would have been not to long after. Cyrus told his son who told his granddaughter who told me. OK, there not very long stories but both are pretty complete. Names, dates, places.

Story 1 - Sometime following the years after the Great Irish Famine, my great grandfather immigrated to the Maritimes, in Canada. His original surname was O’Malley, but somewhere along the way, was corrupted by Acadienne French to the name Mealey. This was my grandfather’s surname, and my mother’s maiden name.

Analysis: I don’t know much more than that, but it seems plausible. I think many Irish names were corrupted when they immigrated.

Story 2 - father’s side: Somehow, someway, they keep saying we’re decendants of Caligula. Caligula! :eek:

Analysis: Did Caligula even have children? :dubious: Likely a ridiculous family joke, whose origins are lost. But it might explain a lot. :smiley:

Well now, that’s a skeleton! Someone did decide to put him in their family tree but the girl was killed when he was overthrown. Rather gruesomely if I recall.

Caligula’s genealogy: there are no accepted Descents from Antiquity (DFA as they’re described in genealogist circles) stemming from the Julio-Claudian emperors. Caligula’s only legitimate child was his daughter, Julia Drusilla, who was killed along with her parents in 41 A.D. She was a young child at the time. The praetorian prefect Nymphidius Sabinus, who seized the imperial throne in 68 A.D., claimed to be Caligula’s illegitimate son, but this claim was doubted even by contemporaries – apparently his mother had been a lover of Caligula, but she had also taken up with a gladiator the requisite number of months prior to his birth, so Nymphidius’ paternity was much in question.

As for the other Roman emperors, Nero had a daughter, Claudia, who died in infancy. Claudius’ children were both put to death by Nero. Tiberius’ only surviving grandson, Gemellus, was killed by Caligula (and anyway Gemellus’ true father may well have been Sejanus, which would have made him an imperial cuckoo’s bird). Augustus had a number of descendants in the higher echelons of Roman society, many of whom were slaughtered by their imperial relatives, and a few others who disappeared into obscurity. There is at this time no accepted descent from the Julio-Claudian Roman emperors in existance for anyone, and I would ascribe such a family legend firmly to the “Cherokee princess” camp – a fanciful story meant to exalt the family’s origins or add a touch of mystique or the exotic.

Ooooooohhh, excellent, Mississippienne!

I don’t know why they say it, and I’m sure it was originally a joke from someone long dead now, but no one seems to know who started it. There are two or three just foolish enough to believe it… but they are also not technically related, anyway, so maybe that’s why they want to believe it - hopping on some kind of bandwagon. Maybe they never learned about the guy…

“Cherokee Priness” my ass - who would want to be associated with* Caligula*?! :wink: :smiley:

My one bump.

Damn, I thought for sure we’d have some people who have kept alive memories from the Revolutionary War. And I’m certain there are people alive today who’ve heard stories told about slavery because their parents were born into slavery here in the US.

Here’s a story about this guy I knew. I talk a lot about genealogy because I find it interesting and since he’s part Hawaiian part Black I offered to do a bit of digging for him. He mentioned off-handedly that his grandmother claims they descend from Kamehameha the Great with a roll of his eyes that made it clear he didn’t think much of people who made claims like that. Odds are that if not for me he probably wouldn’t be telling his kid that. But I looked into it and sure enough, he descended from the big guy. That one passed down in his family for 200 years but was almost lost in this branch because it seemed too unbelievable. I wonder how often that happens?

The earliest I know of I learned from my grandfather.
In 1540 a ship went down in the Atlantic my ancestor (fathers side) floating in the wreckage prayed for rescue, promising one person of each generation would enter the priesthood. A vow that lasted until my grandfather (deceased) had a vision that he should be a doctor instead of a priest.
My other grandfather has lived a rather amazing life, no one has written anything down, but I hope to correct that in the near future.


A particular ancestor line of mine has the last name of Ross. Family legend had it that we were descendants of Betsy Ross. Multiples lines of the family perpetuated this legend.

I spent a number of years meticulously tracing the line down. Turns out our family had nothing to do with Betsy, but our patriot ancestor turned out to be one Adam Ross, resident of Massachusetts, who fought against the British in the Revolutionary War, and indeed fought at Bunker Hill (well, Breed’s Hill, actually). He rose to the rank of Corporal.

And that’s how our actual genuine Revolutionary War family history got horribly garbled in less than 200 years.

I did have it directly from my GGG-grandfather’s daughter-in-law that my GGGgrandpappy had been a soldier fighting to preserve the Union in the Civil War. She was 99, I was 19. This was shown to be true. I got his powderhorn as my inheritance!

Other family lines have their history die out rapidly. One of my grandfathers had no idea who his grandparents were, and one grandmother had no idea who her father was!

I’ve been able to bring to life some family stories by consulting the genealogical journals of New England. The old town records of te 1600s were full of anecdotes of village life, which often included my ancestors doing such deeds as getting arrested for selling liquor to the indians, being given special dispensation to sit next to the preacher during Sunday service because of hearing loss, and being chastised for pushing the woman next to her off her seat during church service.

Also, 9xG grandma was hung for witchcraft in Salem, Mass. in 1692. The family sure blotted that memory out over the intervening years.

Another ancestor was chronicled for his behavior as a schoolteacher in Ohio in the 1830’s. He whipped his students mercilessly for the sin of not being able to spell “phlegm”. Unfortunately for the students, he was pronouncing it “pee-leg-um” so it’s not surprising that they couldn’t spell it for him.

Man, Osip, that’s impressive. Heh, puts you a quarter of the way to Caligula. How many generations is that? Do you know his name? Do you know if other branches have the tale too?

I didn’t mean to completely rule out things written. Mostly what I wanted was to see how longs these things can last without being forgotten and how much they change over time. Those things that are primarily learned each generation by telling.
I think that happens a lot Qadgop when you get a famous last name. I got some Keys a few centuries ago. Thankfully when I first came upon them an earlier researcher had already done a whole lot and was ready with the answer to the question before it was asked, “No, we’re not related to Francis Scott Key.” One of my lines came over 1665 and by the late 1800s had forgotten they came from England and thought they were French because their name was French looking.

Funny how some tragedies get passed along but others forgotten. Promises to God though, I guess they last.

fern forest

Not sure how many generations ago that was. I cannot even remember his name nor the ship. His fathers name was Paulvus(sp) Verspek (born 1500)

Next time I get with my father I can find out. It seems our family bible(1602) was started by said Ancestor. My father inherited it from the last member of the only other branch from said long dead relatives. So, 12 years after my grandfather died (the relative who told me the story) We have it confirmed.
Seems Paulvus’s son and the following priest of each generation wrote down who was born, where what they did and where they lived.
Some other stories verified since then:
My ancestors were all preachers or teachers, and one failed political assassin. He failed in an attempt to assassinate one of the English kings, I want to say Edward but not sure which one.
One of my ancestors wrote quite a few books, the only one I have a title for is “The weapon and the mourning board” Which I do not believe survived the centuries. I do own about 2 dozen theology books that have been passed down over the years.
I think it is safe to say I have the largest collection of 17th and 18th century Dutch Theology books in the state of Alabama.
I have not verified yet, any relation to William of Orange, but it has been mentioned before.


Somehow a GG Uncle on my Grandma’s side of the family married one of Buffalo Bill’s sister(s).

I have never been able to find out anything on this and have long suspected it was created by the Elders to get the Youngin’s to learn how to do research and whatnot.

That shouldn’t be too hard to confirm. The surnames of the daughter’s husbands appear to be Crane, Goodman, Myers, Jester, Wetmore, Bradford and Decker.

I’ve got an Aunt that was excommunicated from the family for being a flake. Does that help?

My wife’s mom has a phd in Genealogy, her family tree is VERY well researched.

Ethnic memory is interesting. My mother told me once, long ago, that my grandmother had Dutch ancestry. I didn’t pay much attention to this – her family history was Melungeon and Scots-Irish, and Dutch ancestry isn’t terribly common down South. Lo and behold, while researching my genealogy I discovered that my grandmother was, in fact, a descendent of the Van Zandt family of Nieuw Amsterdam (now New York) and hence my connection to the folksinger Townes Van Zandt.

From my father’s side of the family:

My great grandmother left Lithuania, fleeing Stalin. My great grandfather had already traveled to the US to secure a place for the family to emmigrate. He arranged for passage by ship of my (pregnant with my grandmother) great grandmother and my young great-aunt, but I can’t remember from what port.
When they got to Germany, they needed to traverse the Black Forest, and hired a guide. The guide ended up abandoning my great-grandmother in the middle of the Black Forest, leaving her to find her own way through, which she managed to do while pregnant and with a small child in tow.

This was a verbal story, and I know my Mom remembers more details than I do. My dad passed away 3 years ago.

The only stories I have come from my father’s side of the family.

Story 1:

My dad’s dad emigrated to the U.S. from Sweden sometime prior to marrying my Southern grandmother in the 1930’s (? - Dad was born in 1940, the youngest of 4). He was so insistant on being an American that he “Americanized” his first and last names, and refused to speak Swedish around his kids or let them learn it from relatives.

Analysis: I learned this story from my dad’s elder (2nd or 3rd born, I think) sister. She remembers the Swedish relatives, growing up in Michigan. Some of my ideas of Swedes come from what she’s told me. I have no doubt about the objective facts, though I realize she would have her own slant in describing the relatives and even her dad.

Story 2:

My dad’s mom’s dad fought in the Civil War, on the Southern side. When he was in his 60’s (as I remember it), a neighbor owed him a debt & could not pay it, so they settled the debt by having my grandfather marry the other man’s 13 year old daughter. This was somewhere around Biloxi, Mississippi, IIRC.


I think my great aunt told me the story (grandma’s sister), but I’m not sure now. I can reconstruct the timeline to make it plausible that my grandma’s dad was a Civil War veteran: if he was in his late teens/early 20’s in the 1860’s, that would put him in his 60’s within a decade of the turn of the century. My grandma & her 2 sisters were born sometime within a decade after that, I believe (Dad was born in 1940; he was the 4th kid, so his parents probably married in the 30’s, and I know my grandma worked as a nurse before having a family, so it’s likely she was not a teenager when she married). There’s no way I can guesstimate whether my great-grandma was actually a 13 year old bride (let alone the “settle a debt with a neighbor” story), because she died before I was born, and I can’t even recall ever seeing a picture of her.

But, hey, it’s an interesting story.

**YaWanna **-- you could look up census and church records to see how old your great-grandma was when she married your great-grandpa. Teenage child brides weren’t uncommon in the Deep South – my own grandmother was thirteen when she married my grandfather.

Thanks, Mississippienne - I’m thinking I’ll put “research family tree” on my “Things to do when I retire so I don’t die of boredom” list. For now, though, I crave boredom more than anything. :smiley:

My mother’s paternal grandfather grew up on farm south of Rochester. He was hoping to go to high school, and spent the summer of his 12th year working three jobs, including one doing farm work, in order to save up enough money so that he wouldn’t have to work during the school year. His father, who had a pathetic drunk since his mother had died, went around and collected his pay for him, including, at the end of the summer, everything he’d earned working on the farm. He took my great-grandfather, along with three of his siblings, to an orphanage in Rochester, and drank up the money. The nuns found my great grandfather a position as a plumber’s helper (the job for a boy, not the tool), and he eventually became a plumber. He never went back to school (he never made it to 7th grade, even). He did, however become actine in the Knights of Labor and served one term as an alderman in the city. He never saw his father alive again, but buried* him when he died a few years later, and is burried, along with my great-great grandmother, three infants, and one of my great-grand aunts in a smallish plot in the Catholic cemetery in Honeoye Falls.

  • and by buried, I mean arranged for the burial of.

Analysis: My Great-Great Grandfather was a bastard.

Well, on one side of the family, I’m decended from long line of sea captains—the rumor is that one of them made at least one slave-delivery run :eek: (with the sub-rumor being that he would have been—er, blackballed (sorry, no other word) from the shipping community if he hadn’t dirtied his hands in the business like everyone else.); and another one (this one is probably written down on family tree, actually) married a Chinese woman. So somewhere back in the 19th century one of my ancestors was My Lin Richardson, or some such.